Eugene Peterson: Practice Resurrection 8

Eugene Peterson: Practice Resurrection 8 March 23, 2010

Eugene Peterson, in his new book, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ  explores the church in Ephesians 2, and lands upon an idea worth pondering today:

Do we focus on the function of the Church or the ontology of the Church? That is, on what it does and can do and should do or upon what it is by the act of God?
Notice this from Peterson. Ephesians 2:11-22 has nine verbs of divine action: Jesus is our peace, he made us one, he broke down the dividing wall of hostility, he abolished the law, he created one new humanity, he made peace, he reconciled, he put to death, and he proclaimed peace (see text after jump).
With five passive verbs, which show God’s acts on our behalf; the church is not something we do: we are brought near, Spirit gives us access, built upon the foundation, we are joined together, and we are built together.

2:11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh – who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands – 2:12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 2:14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 2:15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 2:16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 2:17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 2:18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 2:19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 2:20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 2:21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 2:22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

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  • I appreciate the Eugene Peterson perspective on what many think, at times including me, is a settled conclusion. Like today’s post–from the text, we see the crucial words–the verbs–noting that the subject is God, not human beings. In a pragmatic, “‘to do’ list” ecclesiology, Peterson wanders in after contemplating the texts of Scripture and reminds us that we’re getting it wrong.

  • mick

    I really liked this section of the book. Obviously his focus is on the church as a whole but this is also true of us as individuals. We must continually orient and anchor our life to what Father, Son and Spirit have already done and are doing so that our function will flow from his past, present and ongoing actions. We can “tip our hat” to this theologically then get on to the real business of the pragmatics of function but Peterson reminds us that our function/doing must stay centered in God’s being and action, gratefully receive it, letting it become our formational identity and then participate in the actions of God that will flow from it with his life and power behind it vs. the our best ideas and efforts. Doing flows from being as a church just as we say of individuals.
    Wouldn’t it be amazing if we truly received and lived out of these 9 active and 5 passive verbs as his body on earth!

  • Richard

    I think emphasizing the ontology of the church by God’s grace will drive us to live into that reality and trust God to cover where we’re lacking. I see this pattern in Colossians as well where Paul lays out what Jesus has done and who he is (very poetically) and then later talks about living in response to that.
    Knowing a little about how humans work through changes, I think God’s wisdom in Scripture is proven even in the basic structures of capturing human hearts/wills/imaginations and painting a picture of what God is up to and a vision of a better future. We will never work through the challenges of changing if there isn’t a compelling vision that makes the short-term pain worth going through. Perhaps that is why contemplation of Jesus and his passion has been such a key fixture for the Christian life and ultimately leads to transformation of the individual.

  • Thanks. I would add that this passage parallels Eph 2:1-10, which demonstrates God’s grace for believers. The same grace by which he saves us is that by which he forms the church. This means that church unity (Paul’s concern throughout the letter) is not something we aspire to or work toward, but like our salvation, a reality we grow into. We are one already; we have only to accept this gracious reality not to fight against it (Eph 4:1-16).

  • samb

    It doesn’t seem to me that we focus enough on who we are in Jesus Christ, Father’s beloved children and that it is not our choice but His, much as our physical birth is outside of our choices. We rush on too fast to what we are to do as his children. On the other extreme, we can lose our focus and become self absorbed. I think if we can keep our focus on Jesus and follow him in a way that is symbiotic to how he actually lived, in dependence upon His Spirit and in gratitude, our identity will become clearer to us as we learn to live a life of Love.

  • kerry

    We can never say, “it is done”, too often can we? What a relief…and what a wonder. Thanks (again) Eugene!

  • jdw

    great sample from the book. i find myself often tired by the “how to’s” or the what we need to accomplish as a church. i also struggle with feeling a self-imposed guilt if i am not making stuff happen–because that is the only way to prove my worth, right? So i would lean towards ontology. I am not sure if Scott would agree but it seems to me a post-modern culture needs time and space to “believe again” that God is actually working within the world. (are we in danger of losing this or neglecting it, to our peril?)
    Really liked what Mick said too.

  • Chaplain Parson

    I do think Christians focus to much on dealing with conversion rather than developing. I recently took a survey from those in my sphere of influence asking them this question,”What do you need to ask God to help you with today?” Everyone one of them metioned something about being needed to be saved from sin. That is important, but we need so much more in order to live a resurrected life. Why are we so hung up on salvation (which is focused on our death), and not about our living?